Where I live there is an opening in the coastal mountains that allows the fresh westerly ocean breeze to flow right into our expansive back lawn and to set off a lovely deep-toned wind chime near my window. Along with birdsong each morning, I am treated to a melodious greeting most every springtime and summer day. The sunlight pours in from the opposite direction, and where these two forces of nature meet, the flowers seem to love it, thriving on just the right amount of gentle heat and ocean moisture.
One is reminded of a line from the Pentecost sequence, addressed to the Holy Spirit: “Come, Holy Spirit, come. and from your celestial home, shed a ray of light divine. . . You of comforters the best; you, the soul’s most welcome guest; sweet refreshment here below.”
Yes, but, not all is sweet refreshment—not always. The work of the Spirit in renewing the face of the earth, in converting human hearts, remains to be fully accomplished.
The recent shootings in Santa Fe, Texas came oddly, almost grotesquely, juxtaposed with the royal wedding in Windsor. How do we keep two such widely disparate human realities in our heads at the same time? Clearly, to my mind, the more important of the two as a sheer news item is the school shooting, how we as a people in the US, blocked by right-wing ideology and a dysfunctional Congress and governmental system, have failed to do to respond vigorously to this scourge upon our national soul. But it is also true that the wedding at Windsor reminded us of that other part of our national original sin, the racism that at one time sanctioned chattel slavery here in Britain’s old colonies. Racism still sanctions not only subtle and not-so-subtle forms of discrimination (look at the rate of black men who are stopped by cops for no offense whatsoever), but new forms of social apartheid, reinforced by the policing and prison systems and by the real estate industry. And the Trump era has given renewed license to some to express racist views with virtual impunity—indeed with official encouragement.
Rather than watch the wedding on Saturday, I presided at the funeral of an old friend. He and his family came here as immigrants back in the 1980s from Sri Lanka. They were and are a devoted Catholic family. Upon their arrival here, they landed in what was still a largely white-defined civil and church society here in the south Bay Area. They were the first persons of color at the time to have attended a particular Catholic church in nearby Sunnyvale. When, as a family, they occupied a pew on the right side of the large church, they discovered that people would not sit within five rows of them, leaving them isolated. They persisted, however, believing in the power of their faith in Jesus, and in their own Catholic credentials (having come from a majority-Buddhist country), and that they had something to share with the people who were far from welcoming to them.
The mother of the family volunteered to serve as a Eucharistic minister. One day, while she was standing alongside the pastor offering Communion to the congregation, the pastor noticed that no one was going up to her to receive; they all queued up in the pastor’s line. The pastor (a stubborn Irishman, I presume), would have none of it. He took his ciborium with the Eucharist back to the tabernacle and told the people that if they wanted to receive, they would have to receive from a member of the People of God who happened to be Sri Lankan, and not from him. And so they did.
In that same Pentecost sequence, the church prays: “Bend the stubborn heart and will; melt the frozen, warm the chill; guide the steps that go astray.” Our common faith in the end prevailed, at least in that one small precinct of the world, and for that one precious moment, when the cool breeze of the Spirit made itself felt. But we need many, many more such moments if we are ever to arrive at a world imbued with justice.